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"I hold no ill will to my accuser." George Pell has responded to the High Court's decision.

This story contains mentions of child sex abuse and may be triggering for some readers.

Cardinal George Pell will be released from prison after Australia’s High Court quashed his child sexual abuse convictions. He has been acquitted of the offences and will walk free from Barwon Prison today.

The full bench of seven judges were unanimous in their decision.

The verdict was delivered at 10am on Tuesday morning, and George Pell, 78, was not in the courtroom. His legal team has informed the former financial controller of the Vatican at his jail cell.

George Pell releases public statement.

George Pell has responded to the High Court’s verdict in a public statement.

“I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice,” Pell began.

“This has been remedied today with the High Court’s unanimous decision.”

Pell added that he looks forward to reading the reasons behind the decision to allow his appeal.

“I hold no ill will to my accuser, I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel, there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough.”

Pell also acknowledged the current coronavirus pandemic, stating: “I am aware of the current health crisis. I am praying for all those affected and our medical frontline personnel”.

The High Court’s decision.

Once Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric, Pell was convicted on December 11, 2018, of five charges of child sexual abuse. This included the rape of one 13-year-old choirboy and the sexual assault of another at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996. One of the choirboys died in 2014, prompting the other to bring the allegations to police.

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Last August, George Pell lost his appeal to the Court of Appeal in Victoria, leading his legal team to take the case to the High Court, the final path in his bid for freedom.

The High Court found the Victorian Court of Appeal majority – Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and President Chris Maxwell – had failed to engage with the idea that against a body of evidence, the complainant’s account was not correct.

“The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place,” the High Court said in a summary of their ruling.

They put aside the likelihood of two robed choirboys slipping away from the procession without being detected, as well as their ability to find altar wine in an unlocked cupboard and for Cardinal Pell to expose his penis through his ornamental robes.

Instead, they focused on the evidence that placed Cardinal Pell at the front of the cathedral for at least 10 minutes after Sunday masses in December 1996.

They pointed to the fact Cardinal Pell was in the company of Monsignor Charles Portelli when he returned to the priest’s sacristy to remove his vestments and there was continuous traffic in and out of the sacristy for up to 10 minutes after the altar servers completed their bows to the crucifix.

“There is a significant possibility in relation to charges one to four, that an innocent person has been convicted,” they said.

George Pell News
Cardinal George Pell will be released from prison after Australia's High Court quashed his child sexual abuse convictions. Image: AAP.
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A fifth conviction relating to a second alleged incident, in which the surviving choirboy claimed he was molested by Cardinal Pell in a corridor, was also quashed.

"The assumption that a group of choristers, including adults, might have been so preoccupied with making their way to the robing room as to fail to notice the extraordinary sight of the Archbishop of Melbourne dressed 'in his full regalia' advancing through the procession and pinning a 13-year-old boy to the wall, is a large one," they said.

"The capacity of the evidence to support the verdict on this charge suffers from the same deficiency as the evidence of the assaults involved in the first incident."

Tuesday's decision from the High Court concludes the legal process and there will be no further trials concerning these convictions.

Pell is now free to be released from Barwon Prison, near Geelong, where he has spent more than 400 days behind bars.

Pell has always maintained his innocence.

Social distancing requirements due to COVID-19 meant a limited number of people were allowed inside the courtroom in Brisbane, where the verdict was delivered.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

- With AAP.


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